One of the most important steps you can take to prevent getting sick and spreading germs to other people is by washing your hands.

5 tips you should know about handwashing

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It sounds simple, but washing your hands is one of the most effective steps you can take to stay healthy, keeping your germs to yourself and preventing others' germs from infecting you.

Once germs are on your hands and you touch your mouth or nose, your odds of getting sick increase. Viruses can spread through an object (doorknobs, computers, light switches, toys) that an infected person touches, coughs on or sneezes on or through personal contact such as shaking hands or breathing in droplets.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, proper hand-washing can prevent about 30% of diarrhea-related sicknesses and about 20% of respiratory infections, like colds.

So, what exactly is "proper" hand-washing? Here are five tips:

  • Use soap: People around the world clean their hands with water, but very few also use soap. Cleaning hands with running water (not a water-filled sink) and soap removes germs much more effectively. The temperature of the water doesn't matter, the CDC says.
  • Be thorough: When washing your hands, lather all surfaces (backs of the hand, between the fingers, even under nails) for 20 seconds. That's about the length of singing "Happy Birthday" or the "ABCs."
  • Wash Often: Wash your hands before, during and after preparing food and before eating. Wash them after taking care of a sick person, changing a diaper or picking up after pets and, of course, going to the bathroom.
  • Don't Spread Your Own Germs: If you're sick and blow your nose or cough into your hands, please look out for others and wash your hands afterward.
  • Hand Sanitizer to the Rescue: When soap and water aren't available, hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol can substitute. Apply it to your palm and clean all surfaces of your hands. Sanitizer is not as effective as soap and water, but it's much better than the alternative!

– Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention